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Nonprofit Leader Cliff Numark Isn’t Afraid to Roll Up His Sleeves

Every two seconds someone somewhere in the United States needs blood.

It was YPO member Cliff Numark’s job to make sure that there were always enough blood donors to fill that need. Numark served as Senior Vice President of the American Red Cross for two years; the Red Cross supplies roughly 40% of the nation’s blood and blood component supply. All of it comes from volunteer donors.

Keeping the blood supply well stocked can be a challenge says Numark. “Oftentimes, we literally have just a few days’ supply of blood and blood products. So, it is our job to ensure that we motivate folks to show up so they can save someone’s life.”

From a business perspective, Numark always looked at his job the same way he would in any other One of Cliff Numark's top CEO traits is a leadership focus that "enables me to do social good.”company, for profit or not.

“It’s a supply chain. But what’s different is the fundamental starting point, the raw material, is another human being,” he explains. “Just like you have a factory where you have raw material that comes in the assembly line and goes on the conveyor belt to a finished product, our raw materials are human beings — but they can decide not to show up. They have to be persuaded to have a needle stuck in their arms.”

Luckily, Numark is asking for something that everyone has — and something that many can part with without much effort. “What we really sell is by giving an hour of your time, you can literally help save a life, potentially multiple lives.”

As senior vice president, he was responsible for overseeing the recruitment of all blood donors in the country for all Red Cross products. In the United States, about 4.6 million whole blood units and one million platelet products are collected per year.

“There are literally thousands of people who need blood today, whether it’s because of a medical procedure, a major auto accident, or because they are being treated for cancer, or for another reason.”

Volunteers: the driving force

Numark’s responsibility was to ensure that people sign up and actually give blood so that these patients are taken care of.

“Millions of lives are saved every year because of the work of incredible volunteers who donate blood and the people who organize blood drives,” he says.Cliff Numark Numark sees his leadership, formerly with the Red Cross and now with Vitalant, as a way to have a very significant impact. “It’s not just an impact, but it’s a responsibility. I love that responsibility, because it enables me to do social good.”

“We productize volunteer energy, so that we can serve hospital patients who are in desperate need of a product where there is no other source but another human being.”

Social good on a massive scale

Every day the Red Cross has roughly 500 blood drives across the country with 80% of those organized by volunteers. “From a logistic standpoint, it’s an incredible exercise. They [the volunteers] are trying to get people to show up for their party,” says Numark. To make this happen, the volunteers work with professional staff who teach them what it takes to get the word out, address any questions people have, in addition to covering the basics such as: Are the doors going to get opened on time? Do we have enough tables and chairs? Is there running water nearby?

“All of these types of logistics are critical for a blood drive,” explains Numark.

YPO influence on CEO traits

Numark joined YPO when he was the CEO of American Red Cross Southern California Blood Services. “YPO has been absolutely critical for me to help achieve the mission of the organization,” he says. “When I was CEO, it was super helpful for our overall organization, from both the marketing side and our hospital partners.”

Numark says that YPO was a big help in moving the company in a digital direction. Over a four-year period, marketing went from 9% of blood products originating from digital appointments to a whopping 38%. “This was a massive change,” says Numark. “Our team had ideas for how to make this happen, but YPO was the catalyst in the thinking.”

“Use the best thinking to run an efficient business enterprise and do it for something that is so meaningful for millions of patients every year.” — Cliff Numark, Former Senior Vice President of the American Red Cross

A sea change

While the end product hasn’t changed, the way in which blood donors are recruited has. “The ways that people are connecting is totally different than 20 or 30 years ago,” says Numark. “What we are trying to do is to evolve our ways of communicating with these incredible volunteers who literally give a part of themselves to help someone. We’re trying to evolve that in a way that makes sense with what our modern society looks like.”

For example, younger people with a drive for social good may not have a strong affiliation with their local communities but they might have a strong connection with their Facebook virtual communities. In partnership with the Red Cross, Vitalant and others, Facebook has enabled a tool to make it easy to sign up for notifications for when and where blood is needed, making it easier for younger people to answer the call toward social good. “It allows us to reach out to those folks and encourage them to sign up to give,” says Numark.CEO traits

The tool was originally designed for use in India, Pakistan and Brazil where the blood supply has a very different structure than in the United States.

“In some cases in these countries, if you fall ill and you need blood, you may need to get your friends and family to give blood to have what you need to survive.” So, it is a way for people to reach out to their online communities.

The U.S. approach is to have blood on the shelves available for hospital patients as they need it. Still, the tool is proving quite valuable, says Numark. “It’s just a better use of technology to meet people where they are. This tool enables us to reach people who may not have thought of it before. Maybe they aren’t a part of a local organization, maybe they work from home, they don’t go to a place of work each day, they don’t have kids,” he says. “They are folks that may not have as many networks or networks where we typically have our blood drives.”

Among Numark’s top CEO traits: Making an impact

“I always wanted to do something with a social purpose for a very, very long time,” says Numark. “So, when I had the opportunity to take what I view as a really interesting business challenge for something that’s a social good, I thought this is an incredible opportunity. Use the best thinking to run an efficient business enterprise and do it for something that is so meaningful for millions of patients every year.”

Numark sees his leadership, formerly with the Red Cross and now with Vitalant, as a way to have a very significant impact. “It’s not just an impact, but it’s a responsibility. I love that responsibility, because it enables me to do social good.”

YPO is a global leadership community of chief executives driven by our belief that the world needs better leaders. We grow stronger as people and leaders through peer learning, life-changing experiences and important relationships. We inspire and challenge one another based in open sharing and trust among a diverse community. With YPO behind us, we are uniquely prepared and supported to make meaningful impact on lives, businesses, and the world.